Simply fly

What is it about flying with a friend, a fellow addict, who thinks, breaths and eats aviation? Simple question…or maybe not.

Andrey is building a homebuilt, owns and rents out a couple of airplanes and has his sights set on a crazy, wonderful SLSA (whatever that is) that is being designed as we speak and is due to come out in the next couple of years called a Raptor. What an airplane…but I digress.

“Hey Andrey, I’m thinking of flying over to Fitchburg and I know…”

“Hey Mel, you need a co-pilot?”

“That would be great!”

So he comes over to N9323J and I hear his amazing greeting as I get the cover off “Hey, Mel, how are you?” Big smile on his face, a certain confidence in his gait as we are going to fly for fun.

We don’t HAVE to fly, we don’t have a mission other than to fly over my house in Chelmsford and do a couple of turns so the wife can see us, then fly to Fitchburg and back. It’s a trivial mission…and that’s what a hobby is about.

He’s flying a LOT as he’s looking to get his IFR rating soon. I fly 1/month for an hour or so as I have another intoxicating hobby – flying drones with FPV (i.e. with an on-board goggles view).

So he gets in and we take off on a gorgeous, calm, almost-cloudless NE summer day in mid-August. He requests flight-following and as we get over Chelmsford I do some “turns in the wind” over my house. FAA kicks in and says “Piper Cherokee 9323Juliet, are you still bound for Fitchburg?”

“Yes…just doing a quick fly-over for the missus over my house…” (not exact verbiage)

We get to Fitchburg and there is no restaurant any more…the kiss of death for a small airport. However, the locals tell us the EAA has free coffee & doughnuts every Saturday morning in the hangar next door.

It’s a beautiful hangar with about 4 spotlessly-clean aircraft – both sophisticated and homebuilt – and the guys are brewing the coffee as they heard our request as we were taxiing if “there was a place to grab a cup of coffee?”

We trade flying stories…I did a side-slip to bleed off a bunch of altitude before landing (you put the plane at a crab angle – the most aerodynamically inefficient way to fly) and hold it until you get closer to the ground. For some reason I was not nervous in the least which was cool. Had only done it one other time w/o the instructor in the right seat. You can do anything with an instructor in the right seat.

Called the missus…she said “Did you see me waving? Next to the yellow wheelbarrow on the driveway?”

“Sure sweetie…I did.” I lied and so I laughed. She knew it.

After hanging out and talking trash “with the boys” we got back in the Cherokee and man…the thing climbed like a rock during takeoff…due to the conditions. But we got up “into the pearly skies” and sauntered back to Lawrence, the Merrimack below, 495, the abandoned airport and then KLWM.

Landed at Lawrence and was happy to grab lunch at the little restaurant enjoying the young families enjoying the aircraft taking off or landing, the good food and the warm New England light winds.

Real nice to fly with a friend…I recommend it…or simply to fly.

Breakfast in Sanford

L-39 iYou never know what you are going to find when you take off for an innocent adventure on a Saturday morning.  My son bailed on our plans when he discovered an opportunity to pregame for his formal birthday party on Sunday with an informal gathering of birthday friends on Saturday.  Premonitions of “Get away from me, Dad, you’re bothering me…” likely to come in five or six years.  So I’m off on my own for breakfast at Sanford, Maine, with one additional stop so I can legally log it as a cross-country flight.  Low-level turbulence makes me look like a fool down low, but passing through a thousand feet the air smoothed out into a strong, steady stream of air.  After finding a heading that works, I can almost put my feet up on the panel and let the plane fly itself to breakfast.  At the restaurant, I’m offered pancakes with orange and cranberry.  And then I walk out to find this: An L-39 jet trainer designed in  Czechoslovakia in 1964 and produced through the 1990s, this one with a red Russian military star on the tail peeking out from behind a yellow-and-black paint scheme naming what appear to be corporate sponsors of the jet.   And most amusing was a to realize that sitting on the left of this military trainer from the Soviet era was a Cessna from the Civil Air Patrol.  Taxiing back to the runway, I passed a man working on the tube frame of what was likely to become a tube-and-fabric airplane.  Near a spot where I’d once before passed a large Grumman flying boat.  It was a good day.  A better day than one pilot was having as I landed at one of my stops: “Cessna 123, hold short, landing traffic.” “Okay, cleared to take off.”  “No, hold short, landing traffic.” “Cessna 123, line up and wait.”  “Okay, cleared to take off.” “No, line up and wait.”  It would be tempting to shake my head at that pilot, but I knew that a few hours later my son would be shaking his head at me.

The Twin Bee

Here’s an adventure that doesn’t come often to the Greater Boston area. Ever thought about flying a tail-wheel airplane?  How about a seaplane?  How about a mutli-engine airplane?  How about all three in one?!?  Say hello to the Twin Bee, a twin-engine version of the Sea Bee, developed right here in Norwood, Massachusetts, in 1960.  The airport gossip is that only six are still flying.  The Wikipedia page says only 23 were built.  But now there is one sitting at the Bedford airport from now through October with your name written on it.  Go up to Maine to get your seaplane rating at Twitchell’s Seaplane Base (3B5) in Turner, then call Rob Valleau at East Coast Aero at Bedford (KBED) before October for your multi-engine seaplane rating.  Then come back to the Hawk Flying Club and tell all your friends about your adventure.

Fresh flight

Such a refreshing experience it was to fly this morning.  The weather was calm with an even overcast at 4000 feet and light drizzle forecast to change to light rain later in the day.  The plane, properly trimmed, climbed hands off to cruising altitude, and then out to the practice area.  Approaching the ocean, a thin layer of clouds at 2000 feet below pushed in from the ocean just over the shoreline.  Clearing turns, gentle turns, steep turns, slow flight, take-off and landing stalls both turning and not, everything flown in calm conditions with just the lightest touch on the controls.  There is nothing like it to feel the physical connection to the machine and the weather, a connection so deep you can feel the plane wanting to fly the maneuver itself.  Coming back to the airport for landings, both short-field and soft-field, the plane flew itself to the runway.  Trimmed for final approach, flying almost hands-off, the whole experience evolved so slowly, so gently, so peacefully.  We are lucky to have a plane that so much loves to fly.

Fall friends

Sanford Airport RestaurantFour friends arrive in three planes at the same airport for breakfast at the same time! What are the odds? The restaurant was the Cockpit Café at the Sanford airport in Maine, so the odds are pretty good.

I drove up to the Lawrence airport at dawn. I felt the sun rise behind my shoulder and set the orange and red leaves ahead of me on fire under the frost. I turned the plane into the sun and scraped the frost off the wings. I took off and turned north. I prepared to work hard on maneuvers on the way up to Sanford and breakfast, but within minutes it dawned on me that this was the start of a special day. The winds were forecast to be calm thousands of feet into the air. The visibility extended forever. The fall leaves below were crisp and clear. This was not a day to waste on hard work. I trimmed the plane for cruise and pointed it in the right direction and let the plane fly itself to Maine.

The pattern at Sanford was full. Cherokees. Cessnas. A Bonanza. A twin.  A Citabria.  A Pilatus announced a three mile final. (Pilatus pilots don’t fly like the rest of us.) After breakfast, I walked back to the plane and noticed two guys adding oil to the Pilatus. I learned that one of them owned the Pilatus with a partner. He owned the left half and the partner owned the right half. (Pilots are funny.) I mentioned that I’d once longed for an airplane that would put Lincoln, Nebraska, within a day of flying from Boston. “Oh, yeah, we use Lincoln as our stop on the way to California.” I mentioned that I’d almost bought a Mooney, but realized at the last minute that my family would never spend a day in an airplane with me. “Oh, my family loves it in the back, it is not as quiet as it could be, but it will be better with the new five-bladed prop.” (Pilatus pilots don’t live like the rest of us, either, but they are nice guys.)

I stopped at Skyhaven to practice landings on the way home. They were using the northwest runway with a quartering tailwind which was a little exciting. Coming in for my first landing, I heard a gaggle of planes on the radio coming in behind me. I took off again and turned right to go back for another, and pulled in behind a flock of RVs coming in to land. I lost track of the last one, waited a little while to find him, and finally had to ask for help. “Skyhaven Red RV, say position.” “I’m on the runway about turn off.” “He’s really more orange than red.” “He’d be beautiful in any color.” Pilots are funny. Maybe a little difficult at home, but funny at airports.


Biplanes_at_Katama_AirparkI flew to Katama this weekend!

If you haven’t flown to the Vineyard, do it! Since it is grass it’s technically a soft field but it’s very firm. Still a good idea to use your soft field technique though. It’s like a step back in time when you land. The runways are a little difficult to pick out at first, but once you’re familiar the airfield it becomes easier. Take a good look at the field on Google maps. The runways are numbered with white stones. There are 3 runways, the most common one is 21 which runs alongside the road. Look just to the left of the road nearest the restaurant with the planes parked nearby and you’ll see it.

There is a landing fee which varies depending on how long your staying, whether or not you’re going to the beach (there is a separate parking area at the south end of the field). We paid $10: $5 landing fee and $5 for 1/2 day parking—we landed at 11:00. You can eat at the restaurant on the field and I’ve heard they may waive the landing fee if you eat there. Whatever the fee is it’s well worth it.

If you’re familiar with the term “island time” it all becomes very clear once you land at Katama. Everything slows down a bit, everyone is more friendly and not in a hurry to get anywhere. If you look up the term “laid back” in the dictionary you’ll probably see a picture of Martha’s Vineyard! You can take the shuttle bus into Edgartown for $1.25. It stops right beside the field and runs about every 15 minutes.

As far as flying to the vineyard, there are two choices. Over the water if you’re comfortable with a long voyage over water, or over land. Be sure to use flight following if you go by land as there tends to be a lot of traffic. Keep it under 3000′ and just outside 128 and you’ll be clear of Boston’s class B airspace. I plot my route: LWM BED OWD 1B2. Boston approach is very helpful and professional.

Credits: The picture of the Katama biplanes is from Wikimedia Commons.

Oh, to fly again!

Connie at Auburn-Lewiston KLEWI flew 23J on its first flight with the new engine, and was reminded why I started flying. It had been close to a year since my last flight, delayed, in part, by the engine rebuild. I took off on a CAVU day (also known as a blue bird day!) and headed to Auburn-Lewiston in Maine. I had been there a few years back and enjoyed a lobster roll with Coke and chips for $9.95 – or close to that. Sadly I learned that the restaurant had closed  (cheap prices??), but I also remembered, off the end of runway 4, two “Connies” sitting in a field that I hoped were still there.

After a thorough preflight, I fired up the engine. Our mechanic, Dick Horton, had mentioned that with new baffles he installed, there might be more vibration than normal, but I didn’t notice anything unusual. I did the mag check during taxi as Dick had suggested and performed a brief run up. Once cleared for take off, I advanced the throttles slowly until reaching a speed of 30-40 MPH and then advanced them all the way to rotation speed. I had two notches of flaps with just myself in the plane, and if you’ve ever done that, you know the plane literally leaps off the ground. After climbing out of Lawrence, I continued on to Auburn. All the way up I was watching the oil pressure and temperature readings for abnormalities and everything seemed OK. The only other thing I had to watch out for were the occasional clouds at 3500 feet which had me dodging them.

I landed at Auburn and immediately noticed one of the “Connies” parked in front of a hanger in an obvious state of dismantling (see the picture at the top of this post). I assumed the other one was in the hanger. This was confirmed by the very friendly (and slightly bored) receptionist sitting in the brand new terminal. I asked about the Connies and she told me it was an “ongoing project,” delayed over the years by financial reasons. Why does money always seem to get in the way? After the required (in my case anyway) bathroom break I returned to 23J and once again punched a hole in the sky. I leveled off at 4500 feet and those pesky clouds were now at 4500 feet as well. Were they following me? Anyway there were only a few and I was able to successfully dodge them (cue the music from Top Gun) and return to Lawrence.

It was certainly good to get back up in the air. The plane is running great, and 23J is now within a couple of hours of removing of the “no touch and goes for the first 10 hours” restriction. We have a potential new member who is excited to join. Sadly, our long-time treasurer  Gordon is leaving. He has been a member since before 23J was last painted and 23J last got a new engine! For those of you who haven’t flown in a while, now is the time to start. Mark is always looking for passengers, and so will I once I get current. Go along as a passenger and remember why you learned to fly in the first place.

Back in action!

The Hawk Flying Club is back in action!  Back in action with a fresh zero-time engine in the Archer just a few hours away from being properly broken-in and ready to fly!  It is so, so sad that the break-in procedure forces club members to fly long flights to beautiful locations just out of a day’s reach to most terrestrial humans in the Greater Boston area. Once to Lewiston, Maine.  Once to Rutland, Vermont.  Once to Bennington, Vermont.  And maybe next to a fly-in on Long Island or for an early-fall swim on Martha’s Vineyard.  Come join us for a great time with friends and airplanes.  Memberships are available.

And, just for the record, this is the meticulously maintained Morse Airport (DDH) in Bennington, Vermont:

 Morse Airport (DDH), Bennington, VT  Morse Airport (DDH), Bennington, VT

and this is one of the surprises waiting for you at the airport:

Morse Airport (DDH), Bennington, VT


Citabria Can you see the smile on my face? Can you see the joy shooting out of my ears like fireworks off a bridge? Waiting for our club Cherokee to get out of the shop, I started tail wheel instruction in a Citabria with Chris Dupin at East Coast Aero Club in Bedford. The weather was great, the plane was great, the instructor was great, everything was great. We went to a quiet ramp to practice ground maneuvers for taxiing, then took off and flew along the north edge of Route 128 under the Boston airspace to practice steep turns, slow flight, stalls, and slips. Baby. A Citabria knows how to slip. We practiced take offs and landings at Beverly. Following along on the controls as my instructor took off… Wow. What a thrill. Where I had been punching the rudder pedals with my feet to keep the plane rolling down the runway center line, this man was just tap dancing on the pedals like gentleman in a top hat and tails. To feel the plane come alive in your hands as the controls become responsive as the plane picks up speed, like a balloon expanding and finally lifting itself erect. That is the bond with the machine that I seek. I love our Cherokee, our plane that has been so reliable and so constant, but I think I’ll just duck over here while no one is looking and have a little fling with a Citabria. That’s the great thing about flying with a club like ours: everyone has a story, everyone has an experience, everyone has fun, and every now and then you get to hang out with your friends and hear about it.

The Aero Diner

Aero Diner, Windham, CTI made a wonderful discovery in Windham, Connecticut, today.

It was my birthday, and I was determined to have some fun, so I rented a plane at Hanscom (KBED) to fly myself an adventure while the club plane was in the shop at Lawrence (KLWM). The weekend before, my six-year-old son and I had made a chocolate cake for my birthday, and I had purchased candles in the shapes of “5” and “2” to put on the top. My son asked me, “Dad, are 25 or 52?” I told him I was 52. “Wow. How long will it be until you are dead?”

Well, forget about that. I was completely alive this morning. It was nearly sixty degrees by the end of the day, a moment of warmth in an arctic New England winter, and the sun was blazing. The plan was to fly from Bedford (KBED), Massachusetts, straight south to Newport (KUUU), Rhode Island, then around the south side of the Providence airspace and over to Windham (KIJD), Connecticut, then up to Gardner (KGDM), Massachusetts, and back to Bedford.

I launched into clear blue sky with fantastic visibility. Or at least that was the way it looked on the ground. Up at 2500 feet, it was murky. Looking east from Route 128, the Boston skyline was completely obscured by a wall of muck, and even Route 128 was not easy to find in the murk.

I am always surprised by how interesting the water and bridges and towns are between Providence and Fall River (and remember when there was an airport at Fall River?). I did a couple touch-and-goes at Newport (forgetting all about flying along the Newport mansions! what a wasted opportunity!), bent around the south of Providence, and intercepted a radial from the Providence VOR to Windham. Landing at Windham was my first indication that things were about to get interesting. It felt impossible to go down. Power off, full flaps, and I just couldn’t descend. Slipping down through this rising air, I didn’t touch down until the middle of the runway.

I got out for lunch, thinking I’d walk to a Wendy’s advertised as an eighth of a mile from the airport, but an eighth of a mile starting from where? After walking blocks and blocks, I saw the Wendy’s in the distance, but right next to me was this amazing stainless steel diner right out of the 1950s. The Aero Diner. I walked in and had a half-pound hamburger with cheese and bacon. Now that’s a birthday meal! Every friend I have is going to fly with me down to Windham to eat at this diner. Go check it out yourself!

I launched after lunch, and twenty feet into the air, wham, the right wing was down thirty degrees. Climbing through 2000 feet, and heading north to Gardner, I’m being tossed around like a ping pong ball in some “game of skill and chance” run by a crooked carny at a state fair. Oh. This must be what that airmet for turbulence was warning me about.

I always love practicing landings at Gardner. The landing is almost always to the north, and the wind is almost always from the west, and the ridge close along the west side of the runway almost always send curls of turbulence down onto the runway. Today the wind was so strong it blew me over the runway before I could get established on downwind, and I had to depart the pattern and start again. The second time worked better, but the turn from downwind to base brought me down on top of the ridge, and the wind started to get exciting. I thought better of a touch-and-go, and simply landed and taxied back to the start of the runway. I launched again, thinking I would do another touch-and-go before leaving the area, but climb performance was so bad in that downward-rushing air coming over the ridge that I decided not to try again, and just went home.

I was reminded of one nice thing about our little club plane: a 180-horsepower engine isn’t big in the scheme of things, but those extra ten knots of airspeed make a difference flying against a headwind. The little 160-horsepower engine in the plane I rented from Hanscom just doesn’t go very fast in wind!